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Kids Born Even a Little Early Have Lower School Scores: Study
Date:7/2/2012

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- Babies born on the early side of full-term may have higher odds of academic delays than those delivered a week or two later, new research finds.

Experts aren't sure what exactly causes the achievement lag, evident in third grade. "Perhaps there is something about the uterine environment that supports brain development in a favorable way in the last month of pregnancy and perhaps gets disrupted by earlier birth," said study leader Kimberly Noble, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

The study looked at data from more than 128,000 births of single babies born between 37 and 41 weeks, the span considered full term. When the children reached third grade, the researchers examined their scores on standardized tests to see if their delivery date suggested a difference in learning ability. They concluded that it did.

The math and reading scores of children born technically at full-term -- 37 to 38 weeks' gestation -- lagged slightly behind their peers born just a little later, at 39, 40 or 41 weeks.

The study is published online July 2 in Pediatrics

For years, experts have known that children born preterm, defined as before 37 weeks, are more likely to have academic difficulties, Noble said. Until recently, less attention has focused on differences between children born early full term or later full term.

The commonly held belief that babies born anytime between 37 and 41 weeks develop similarly may be inaccurate, she writes.

The differences found were relatively small, Noble said, but enough to make a difference from a public health or population point of view.

Compared to children born at 41 weeks, those born at 37 weeks had a 23 percent higher risk of moderate reading impairment. Those born at 38 weeks had a 13 percent i
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